What measures, if any, has the Government taken to protect New Zealand from the equine virus that has broken out in Australia?
In order to decrease the risk of equine influenza entering New Zealand, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has suspended the importation of horses from Australia, suspended the transit of horses from Australia through New Zealand’s airports, required that any horse equipment imported into New Zealand be cleaned and either disinfected or fumigated at the border, and required stricter screening of incoming passengers who have been in contact with horses. The ministry is working with the transitional facility for horses to ensure that biosecurity measures are strengthened during the post-arrival quarantine of horses from countries with epidemic equine influenza.
Why were travellers who had actually visited stud farms in equine flu - infected areas able to enter New Zealand unchecked for 2 days after the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had imposed a ban on horse imports, or why were travellers who had travelled around Australia then able to come back and declare they had done so to New Zealand officials but still be allowed to go through the border unchecked?
I have seen reports over the weekend to that effect. I am advised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry that all of those reports have been checked, and that none of the passengers involved were deemed to be of any risk to New Zealand in terms of equine influenza.
How is the Government working with the equine industry to respond to the threat of equine influenza; and what plans does the Government have in place to respond, should equine influenza work its way into New Zealand?
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has worked with the equine industry to trace all horses imported from Australia since 1 August, and has tested those horses to ensure they do not have equine influenza. All those horses tested negative for equine influenza, and the ministry’s investigation is now complete. In addition, the New Zealand equine industry is assisting with passenger screening by providing useful information about potential risk travellers. The equine industry has also put in place its own measures to mitigate risks. For example, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing has invoked strict rules on disinfecting and washing procedures that arriving stable workers and riders have to follow before being allowed to work here.
What were the “procedural issues” that prevented an order being given that would have required passengers to be questioned or their luggage to be checked; and does the Minister think it is acceptable in terms of New Zealand border control processes that some people were able to come through without those processes being adhered to?
I am advised by Biosecurity New Zealand that immediately following advice from the Australian authorities of an equine influenza outbreak, key front-line managers were advised by phone on Saturday, 25 August 2007. Heightened risk screening was in place from that date. Some passengers felt that the actions implemented were not stringent enough over the weekend. However, from follow-up investigations the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is satisfied that the passengers involved posed no risk. I am advised that the equine influenza virus is unlikely to survive beyond 8 to 12 hours on organic material, which includes both shoes and clothing. A standing order was issued on Monday, 27 August to advise front-line managers and staff of amended border requirements for the cleaning and disinfection of risk goods accompanying air passengers from Australia.
Why did he not inform New Zealand’s horse racing and bloodstock industry that its members’ livelihoods were left vulnerable to an incursion of the equine virus by travellers for 2 days, when the New Zealand Equine Health Association has highlighted the risk of people transmitting the virus through clothing because “It spreads like wildfire.”?
I am advised that the first informal news of equine influenza in Australia was on the Friday, and at that point the information was that it was still in a quarantine situation. On the Saturday, when official information was given to Biosecurity New Zealand that there was now a risk outside of quarantine, the actions that I have detailed to the House were taken immediately. I believe that the industry has worked cooperatively with Biosecurity New Zealand and there has been no undue threat to the industry. We do not have equine influenza here. The steps taken by Biosecurity New Zealand over the years have made sure we have not had it. I must remind the House that equine influenza is endemic in most countries of the world, so on a daily basis New Zealand takes precautions against it, not just when there is an outbreak in Australia.